It calls for both short-term changes to the law to respond to emerging safety concerns, as well as a new regulatory regime to govern remote driving on roads in the longer term.
The Law Commission has published advice to the UK government on how to regulate remote driving on UK roads.
Remote driving technology enables a person to drive a vehicle from a remote location. It has seen rapid advancements in recent years, and it already used in controlled environments, such as warehouses and farms. The driver does not have direct line of sight of the vehicle and may be in an operations centre many miles away. This could involve the driver using several screens and a control system to direct a vehicle on the road.
Remote driving technology has several potential applications, including delivery rental cats to customers' doors. The technology may also be used in trials of self-driving vehicles. Whereas most UK trials of self-driving vehicles have an in-vehicle "safety driver", there is increasing interest in using remote driving technology to enable the safety driver to be located outside the vehicle.
The Law Commissions' advice follows a review commissioned by the Department for Transport and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. It calls for both short-term changes to the law to respond to emerging safety concerns, as well as a new regulatory regime to govern remote driving roads in the longer term.
Safety challenges considered in the review include establishing reliable connectivity, driver situational awareness, a possible sense of "detachment" from the physical world, and cybersecurity - such as the threat of a terrorist seizing control of a vehicle. The Law Commission concludes in its advice that remote driving on roads and public places should only be allowed if companies obtain special permissions.
The Law Commission's advice also considers who may be liable in the event of an accident with remotely driven vehicles. It concludes that all victims should be protected by automatic compensation from insurers. While individual remote drivers would be responsible for their driving in the same way as in-vehicle drivers, they would not be liable for any faults beyond their control, such as those due to connectivity problems.
The advice set out in the paper is largely modelled on the Law Commission's 2022 recommendations on autonomous vehicles, which the government has used as part of its plans to roll out self-driving cars by 2025. It includes:
It is now for the government to decide whether it intends to take the advice on remote driving forward.